Introverted, Not Shy

This is a quick supplement to yesterday’s post on “Sense and Sensation“; today I read through Chapter 11 of Susan Cain’s Quiet (which I wish could be expanded and spun off into a book all its own), some while Anya read and played at the public library this morning, and I was blown away by the descriptions of introverted kids’ behavior (which I’m more and more seeing in Anya), and by the amount of incredibly practical information to make sure these kids grow up with self esteem and the understanding of their parents.

It makes sense that Anya would be introverted — both Janet and I are, and our fathers are as well — and in this light, some of her behavior, even at two years old, certainly fits in with this temperament. She’s reserved around strangers, and gets really upset if either someone gets in her face before she’s ready or there are too many people around for her comfort level. She’s slow to join in activities with other kids in a social setting, like a playground, preferring to hang back on the perimeter and watch the other kids first. It takes her a long time to brave a new experience, like going in the ocean, or riding her push-tricycle. She loves being outside, but not necessarily being really active. She really loves books — looking over the pictures and pointing out animals or colors or shapes, as well as listening to Janet or I read the text — and doing simple puzzles by herself on the floor.

Cain says the following about parents hoping their children will learn to self-regulate fearfulness or wariness:

If you want your child to learn these skills, don’t let her hear you call her “shy”: she’ll believe the label and experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than an emotion she can control. She also knows full well that “shy” is a negative word in our society. Above all, do not shame her for her shyness. (p. 247 in the ebook)

After reading this, I realized how many times I’ve labeled Anya as shy, never to her face, but to other people while she was nearby. It was typically after an invitation from another parent for her to play with a group of kids, or to ride a small carousel or other kind of kiddie ride with lots of  lights and noises. I don’t think that shyness has the same stigma in Asia as it does in the US, but if the constant push by the education system in Singapore is to produce outgoing leaders (and where class participatoin is a substantial part of a student’s grade), the Extrovert Ideal that Cain mentions is very much in effect here.

So now that I know, hopefully I’ll catch myself before referring to her as shy again, so that she’ll come to feel as she grows up that her introverted nature is nothing to be ashamed of, and is something that she can instead be proud of.


Filed under Introversion, Parenthood

5 responses to “Introverted, Not Shy

  1. We knew our daughter was highly sensitive right from birth. Where our older daughter could sleep through my running the vacuum in her bedroom, the younger one would startle at the least noise, and then cry. She liked her bathwater tepid (otherwise it was too hot) and she still won’t eat foods that have challenging textures or flavors (i.e., crunchy, spicy, sour, crisp, or overly sweet). And, at the age of 12, she has still never given her dinner order directly to the waiter in a restaurant.

    • Yeah, apart from a (tragically brief) period when she was an infant and could sleep through noisy situations, Anya’s always been easy to startle awake, and she naturally cries because of it. She also hates to sleep, and now that we’re not rocking her to sleep anymore (because she’s in her big bed), it takes a lot longer for her to settle down at night.

      She’s also quite sensitive to bath temperature, like your daughter; she’s not afraid to tell me if the water is too hot. And she doesn’t like trying new foods (although I think many kids are like this).

      But if she’s in a situation where she feels comfortable, she’s vocal, and sings songs she’s made up herself, and is wonderfully friendly and bright.

  2. I haven’t read Quiet yet, although it sounds like I should definitely add it to my to-read pile. I found a lot of valuable things in Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person, and it looks like she has one on highly sensitive children as well. Might be worth checking out–the chapter titles look like they might address some of the things you’re thinking about. (Aron’s page for it is at

  3. Something that I forgot to mention in the post proper is that a friend of mine who has a daughter just a few months older than Anya is much the same way, but he was trying to see temperament in terms of gender; his claim was that girls were more reserved and boys were more willing to throw themselves into things. It seemed reductive when I heard it, but especially after finishing Cain’s book last night, I’m convinced now more than ever that temperament has absolutely nothing to do with gender. There are reserved and outgoing girls, just as there are reserved and outgoing boys.

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